Friday, February 16, 2018

Review of "Hamlet Liikemaailmassa" (Hamlet Goes Business)

A Finnish noir comedy version of Hamlet, set in a family-owned corporate group. If you can imagine that you can pretty much imagine the film. As with other Kaurismaki films the time period of the setting feels a bit indeterminate - there are some computers on desks, but otherwise it looks 1950s (the clothes, the interiors) or even earlier. The screenplay credit goes to William Shakespeare, though I rather feel that there are some departures from the text and from the story-line as I remember it. Certainly the Hamlet character doesn't seem to be as tortured and indecisive as the one that I think Shakespeare imagined.

I watched this once before, at the Sydney Film Festival in 1991 - Ruth was pregnant with Louis, iron-deficient and so eating bunches of parsley as a cinema snack. I joined in to keep her company, so I associate this and other films that I saw there with the taste and feel of parsley. I didn't remember much about it, apart from some of the interior shots; curiously I remembered it as being in washed out colour, but it's black and white.

Watched in the Middle Floor at Springhill, from a real DVD.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review of 'The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution'

A sympathetic documentary about the Panthers, which brings out many of the good things - the social services they offered within the community, the move beyond racial nationalism towards a socialist and class-baseed analysis, the identification with anti-imperialist struggles - but more or less glosses over the bad things - the sexism, the uneasy relationship with criminality and gangs, the glorification of guns and violence...

The film is pretty analytical though, and shows how the FBI targeted the Panthers, and how successful its program of inflitration and destabilisation was. One thing I didn't get at all from the film was how the party related to other Black nationalist, liberation and civil rights groups. There was some mention of the King assassination, and the odd quote from someone in the SNCC, but one could be forgiven for thinking that the Panthers were the only radical group in the Black community. How did they relate to Malcolm X's Nation of Islam, for example?

Lots of great footage, though, including some nice film from the breakfast programs (why don't radicals do that sort of thing any more?) and from demonstrations in support of jailed Panthers that are very clearly multi-racial. And great music.

Watched via informal download, Chromestream and Chromecast.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review of Mr Rooseveldt

An unfunny comedy that has unnaccountably attracted rave reviews and ratings - why? Is there something deeply corrupt about the world of cinema and peer-reviewing sites?

This is 'quirky' - a word that is actually dissected in the film. A young woman who is apparently a comedian in LA but mainly works in a video editing job (many people would think of that as relatively glamorous, but it's presented as dreary and meaningless). She has to return to Austen (her home town) because (spoiler alert) her cat is ill...it's dead by the time she gets back, and her boyfriend has taken up with a new woman who is also grieving for the cat...some casual sex, some ex stuff, too long and not really funny at all - I may have smiled once or twice.

Another bad film from Netflix.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Review of 'The Dressmaker'

From the stable of quirky, set in small town Australia with lots of dark secrets and petty jealousies. Kate Winslett very good as the eponyomous young woman dressmaker returning to look after her aged and dementing mother, who re-enters into the life of the town by making stunning dresses for the women (several of them former enemies). Funny how they are transformed in every respect when they put on the dresses - they have better make-up, hair, complexions and walk as well as the outfits themselves. But it's only a movie.

I was slightly puzzled by the abrupt changes of tone and mood in the film. It starts out as a 'dark comedy', swaps into romcom territory as Kate's character gets the guy, then suddenly it's melodrama, and then we're back with dark comedy again only it's very dark, with a climax involving multiple murders. Mind you, I did sort of experience Hamlet as a comedy because I only saw it after I saw 'Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are dead', so I found the corpse-strewn ending funny in a way that few others watching did.

Anyway, this is good, and worth watching for the outfits alone.

Surprisingly watched on live TV - Film4.


Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Review of Victor Victoria

I really enjoyed this cross-dressing musical comedy from the early 1980s - it's a remake of a German film from the early 1930s. Julie Andrews is really great as the eponymous Victor/Victoria, a woman singer who becomes successful by pretending to be a female impersonator. I can't help thinking how much she looks like David Bowie (I've broken with my blog convention by posting a still rather than the film poster).

There is plenty of positive depiction of gay relationships, and the gay and cross-dressing characters aren't there to suggest decadence, as they are in other films of this genre (Cabaret comes to mind); they are just people with their own lives and loves.

I suspect the film was ahead of its time - it won several awards and was nominated for others, but I don't think it made much money.

Watched at home via Chromestream, having been obtained from those good old informal distribution networks.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Review of Suffragette

Competent historical drama about the women's suffrage movement in the early 20th century. Well made enough to keep my interest, but not so special either in terms of cinematography, or narrative, or insights, as to make me think very much. The acting is good (though it's hard to like Helena Bonham-Carter as a radical after the stupid things she's said), and it's a shame that Anne-Marie Duff, who is one of the main characters gets left off the poster - not pretty enough? Pass me the irony bag.

Still, for my money it really looks like Edwardian England. The force-feeding scene in the prison was suitably horrible though I suspect it was actually rather prettied up. I can't complain that it ignores the dynamic between working-class and posher suffragettes, because that's one of the main themes. Just a bid ploddy.

Watched via Chromestream and informal distribution.

Review of ‘Slouching towards Bethlehem’ by Joan Didion

I must have read this years ago, because I found a well-read copy in my book collection, but I have almost no memory of the contents. Perhaps that’s because the writing is more about a feeling – what it feels like to be Joan Didion – than anything else. There are essays about how it felt for her to be a young woman moving from California to New York in the early 1960s, and how it felt for her a little later when the attractions of the city began to pall. There is a sneering piece about a middlebrow, middle of the road think tank called the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, another in much the same tone about a ‘school of non-violence’ run under the auspices of Joan Baez, and a rather long essay about Haight-Ashbury in the later 1960s that put me in mind of ‘Through a Scanner Darkly’.

It’s nicely written, and I’ll seek out more of her old stuff, even though I don’t quite like her.


I was mainly struck by how contemporary it all feels, even though it was written and describes a world of fifty years ago. It’s recognisably still my world, despite the absence of all the technologies that I make use of during most waking minutes. Even the cover photo, which shows Didion and a beardy man in some sort of tent with a vase of flowers and a bottle of wine in front of them, could have been taken at last year’s Womad. That’s weird, isn’t it? We talk so much about how fast things are changing – but I am sure that if my parents had read a book in 1958 (the year of my birth) that depicted the world of 1908 they wouldn’t have felt it was their world. So when was the disjuncture? The war, or the post-war boom?  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review of 'Blockbuster'

There are quirky French films, and there is this. A guy is making short videos for his Dad who is dying from cancer, and he's making them about the development of his relationship with a young woman who he more or less picked up at random in order to make the films. Only, she finds out and then he realizes that he has come to love her and wants to get back with her. Lots of nice touches, including the really cool young woman who is the flatmate, and cameo roles by French actors and director Michel Gondry, the grand master of quirky French films (the woman has a thing for him).

I think it's very French that I only discovered at the end that the young man and his brother, and his Dad (who we see dying in the hospital) are Jewish. It's so understated that most people won't even notice - whereas in an American or British film, a character can't be Jewish unless that's a really important thing about them. (OK, George in 'Being Human' is an exception.)

Watched on Netflix...almost makes me not want to cancel it after all. Almost.

Review of 'Colossal'

I watched this all the way through - not at a single sitting - and am rather bemused by it. The plot is so silly that it has to be an allegory, but it wasn't immediately obvious what it was about. Anne Hathaway is a young and slightly frivolous woman with a drinking problem who is shoved out of her controlling boyfriend's apartment) and goes back to her home town, where she moves into her parents' apparently empty but rather beautiful town house and then hooks up with a guy she used to know from before she left. At the same time a giant lizard-humanoid begins to terrorize Seoul, and she soon realizes that she is the cause of this - every time she sets foot in a playground near the house the giant monster appears in Seoul, and every move she makes is mirrored by the monster.

See what I mean? At one level it's conventional rom-com/rom-dram territory; the guy she used to know turns out to be a bit disturbed and nasty, there's another guy she quite likes who seems to be attracted to her...but it's also this weird stuff that is barely explained, despite one scene close to the end that purports to be show why this is happening.

In the early hours of this morning I decided it was an allegory about alcoholism. A bar is the focus for much of the action. She has a drinking problem, and so does the guy who turns about to be nasty. He drunk-drives, and is violent when drunk. There is a lot about doing harm to innocent people as a result of unintentional actions, and a fairly heavy hint in the final scene. Perhaps the town the monster destroys is Seoul just for the play on words - 'soul'.

If anyone else watches this and can shed any more light, I'd be grateful, particularly if there are other visual clues in there that confirm my hypothesis.

Watched on Netflix.